Review of 'Pleasantville'

pleasantville.jpg Introvert David (Tobey Maguire) is obsessed with the black and white 50s television sitcom “Pleasantville”. Determined to win a trivia contest during a television marathon of the show David fights with his outgoing sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) who wants to watch a MTV concert. In the scuffle the remote control is broken and immediately a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knots) shows up at the door. After some quizzing of David's knowledge of Pleasantville the repairman gives the pair an odd looking remote control. Using the new remote control David and Jennifer are sucked into Pleasantville as Bud and Mary Sue, children of Parker family George (William H. Macy) and his wife Betty (Joan Allen). Jennifer very quickly rebels against the “wholesome” values of the sitcom world she now inhabits, introducing sexual and moral freedom while David introduces the idea of intellectual freedom. As these ideas spread colour comes to the world but the changes spreading through the community are challenged by divergent ideas as to how the world should be run with violence just around the corner…

A wonderful and witty satire on those terribly dated 50s (and 60s) sitcoms many will be familiar with - “Leave it to Beaver” being the closest it would seem to “Pleasantville”, “I Love Lucy”, etc. Pleasantville also directly confronts issues of personal freedoms and how this changes communities for both good and bad. Indeed, towards the end of this film it gets quite nasty indeed. In the end everyone changes, mostly for the best.

The visual metaphor of black and white changing to colour as minds are opened is quite dramatic and very effective. Yes, blunt and obvious, but interesting and keeps our attention. At points it serves as a good aid to the viewer in understanding who is open and who is not. These special effects are very well done, blending in seamlessly. It has to be said that the filmmakers have really captured the banality of these outdated sitcoms, causing me to chuckle more than once as I remembered them. This is also a tribute to the actors who here put on amazing performances as they utterly convince of their inhabiting these character's lives despite the absurdity of it – George's astonishment when discovering his wife has not prepared dinner being a case in point.

A wonderful, if slightly moralistic, film that directly confronts the absurdity of early TV sitcoms and the messy truths of reality. I did find some of Pleasantville uncomfortable to watch and the simplicity of the so-called “real world” characters (e.g. Jennifer) a bit OTT but a really good film and definitely recommended. It was also great to see an actor from these 50s sitcoms, Don Knots (from the Andy Griffith Show and, later, Three's Company), making a humorous appearance.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2022-12-11

Directed by: Gary Ross

Studio: New Line Cinema

Year: 1998

Length: 124 minutes

Genre: Melodrama

Other reviewed films by Gary Ross: